It's storm season in the American heartland -- time for thunderstorms to bring downpours, windstorms, and spectacular displays of lightning.
Earth isn't the only planet with thunderstorms, though. In fact, the storms on the planet Jupiter dwarf those on Earth. Lightning can be a thousand times more powerful than anything on Earth, and the storm clouds can tower dozens of miles through Jupiter's thick atmosphere.
But the storms on Jupiter have a different power source from those on Earth. Our storms are driven by heat from the Sun. But those on Jupiter are powered by heat from inside the planet. This model was confirmed a year ago when a spacecraft discovered lightning flashes at Jupiter's poles, which receive little or no heat from the Sun.
Jupiter is the most massive planet in the solar system. Its gravity squeezes the planet, generating a lot of heat. As this energy percolates up through Jupiter's atmosphere, it creates updrafts that build titanic clouds -- and triggers the birth of monstrous thunderstorms. Spacecraft can record radio waves from the lightning blasts, which scientists convert to sound.
Look for Jupiter near the Moon early tomorrow, low in the southeast at first light. Jupiter looks like a brilliant star a little to the Moon's upper left.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2008
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